Literacy 2023: Book 15: The Mysterious Affair at Styles

The first Hercule Poirot mystery is essentially a template for everything we expect from an Agatha Christie murder mystery

The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie

When Emily Inglethorpe, wealthy owner of a manor house in a small English village, is murdered in a locked room in the middle of the night, retired detective Hercule Poirot is entreated by the victim’s family to help investigate.


  • The definition of a classic murder mystery, with a house full of suspects, each with their own private scandals and agendas and intrigue that Poirot has to sort out along with the murder itself.
  • You’d never guess this was Hercule Poirot’s first appearance, as he seems to be a fully-formed character from the start, already having all of his eccentricities, mannerisms, benign condescension, and tendency to disappear for chapters at a time only to reveal his discoveries at the last minute.
  • Once the case is solved, Christie goes back through the details to demonstrate how she played fair the entire time. All of the clues are there, even though they’re buried under a mountain of red herrings and subplots.
  • The most relevant clues are repeatedly mentioned, so as everything was tied together, I almost always thought, “oh yes, I remember that detail.”
  • Cleverly throws suspicion among its characters, making the reader feel as if they’ve gotten a solid “vibe” about whodunnit even if they can’t provide any real evidence.


  • Even if you notice all of the clues, and even if you make the correct deductions from them (e.g. realizing that someone was obviously wearing a disguise), the actual chain of events that Poirot explains is so convoluted that it would’ve been impossible to guess.
  • Unlike Christie’s later books, this is extremely dated and unmistakably a product of its time.

Not my favorite Agatha Christie mystery, but it’s a solid and entertaining story that illustrates just how much she was a master of the genre. As I’ve been reading and re-reading her books this year, I’ve been amazed at how experimental she could be and at how timeless her work could be. The Mysterious Affair at Styles is neither timeless or experimental, but it does feel as if it shows her interests: it seems that an intricately-constructed murder mystery came easy to her, and she just used them as the backdrop to create interesting characters and tell their stories.